The Move to IRM
In late 2017, UTSA President Taylor Eighmy launched a Presidential Initiative on Finance and Budget Modeling charged with developing strategies to optimize UTSA's resources and identify opportunities to improve financial performance. Through careful examination and adoption of best practices, the task force explored possible new budget models, identifying those that would work best for UTSA. After a year-long process of investigation and stakeholder input, the task force recommended a new model and overall approach to resource allocation at UTSA called Incentivized Research Management (IRM).
IRM better aligns with the evolving mission of the university. This model is more transparent and better connects decision-making responsibility with the investment of financial resources. This change is in line with many public research universities that have undertaken a redesign of historical, incremental budget models in recent years, shifting to more strategic and data-driven means of resource allocation.
IRM Guiding Principles
The charge of the Budget and Financial Modeling task force was to “create a new budget model that is transparent, data-driven, supports entrepreneurship and innovation, and aligns resources needed for our strategic mission, vision and themes.” In addition to assessing current financial practices, the task force was instructed to “develop strategies to optimize financial resources and expenditures by adopting best financial practices.”
The task force adopted the following seven principles to provide overarching guidance as decisions were made throughout the budget model design process:
- Align resources with institutional priorities
- Support the decision-making process with reliable data and analysis
- Improve budget transparency
- Incentive revenue growth and cost effectiveness
- Improve fiscal accountability and management of resources
- Evaluate the budget process periodically and adjust as necessary
- Develop a budget model that promotes clarity and understanding for academic and administrative leaders with financial responsibilities
The Finance and Budget Modeling task force considered several proposed timelines for implementation and decided that an accelerated implementation timeline allowed benefits of IRM to be realized sooner, avoided budget model redesign fatigue, and maintained project momentum by offering immediate reward and risk to revenue units.
The timeline did not address the next phase of budget process at UTSA, which was built upon a greater infrastructure, particularly in technical system improvements that were needed to adapt IRM with better integration of data and forecasting. This infrastructure is needed for the colleges and the UTSA Budget and Planning Office.
A broad project timeline is illustrated graphically as follows, with further details below.
Parallel Year Process/Hold Harmless Year
During FY19, UTSA operated under its historical budget model and processes, but had reports and information available such that deans and administrators could understand what university and college budgets and bottom lines would look like if UTSA were operating under the IRM model. This approach was further intended to allow for modifications to the model to be made should any unintended implications be identified as stakeholders analyzed their parallel data.
During this parallel year, UTSA operated under the rules and parameters of IRM, but the financial impact of any decisions — negative or positive — were managed centrally. This approach allowed for further identification/remediation of any unintended consequences of model rules or processes, and presented stakeholders (especially deans) with a full year to better understand the implications of various decisions from the perspective of both revenues and expenses.
Year 0 Baseline
In FY20, UTSA went live with IRM. Revenue units were expected to manage their revenues and expenses and were accountable for achieving centrally negotiated bottom-line results. Despite the disruption to revenues and expenses due to the Covid-19 pandemic, UTSA successfully made the switch to the new budget model.
Year 1 and Beyond
In FY20 and FY21, the practical implementation of the model led to several lessons learned. The model was adjusted and revised to better support UTSA’s needs. The IRM team continued to hold collaborative meetings with revenue and support unit leadership to ensure continuous assessment and improvement of the model.
FY22 was the first year in which activity-based gains became apparent. Revenue units, particularly the colleges, have been seeing the benefits of the new model in concrete terms.
More information about the implementation of the IRM model can be found by reviewing these Implementation Resources.